Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 5, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Janice Stapley, associate professor of psychology at Monmouth University, looks at safety for female Division I athletes. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 4, 2018

Is having a chief diversity officer linked to significant gains in faculty diversity? Not really, says a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study, "The Impact of Chief Diversity Officers on Diverse Faculty Hiring," combined data on hiring of chief diversity officers with federal faculty and administrator hiring data by race and ethnicity from 2001-2016 at research and master’s degree-granting institutions with 4,000 students or more. 

“Using a wide variety of robust specifications, we are unable to find significant evidence that the presence of an executive-level CDO alters preexisting trends of increasing faculty and administrator diversity in the institutions we study,” reads the paper. “Although important progress has been made in increasing faculty and administrator diversity from 2001 to 2016, we believe more work must be done to better understand barriers to increased diversity, and how they might be best addressed.”

Steven Bradley, lead author and professor of entrepreneurship at Baylor University, said via email that higher education “has a rapidly growing trend of establishing chief diversity officers as a signal of commitment to increased faculty diversity. Given it is a key job function of the position, and there is a high [salary] price tag associated with the effort, it seemed worthwhile to examine whether there was a significant difference in diversity hiring trends before and after a CDO (or similar position) hire.” At the same time, he said, “The data only allowed us to examine hiring practices in detail. There are many other duties of a CDO -- stemming attrition, promoting a positive climate, etc. What we are able to say from our findings is we were unable to find significant deviations in long-term increasing faculty diversity when a university hired an executive level diversity officer.”


September 4, 2018

Contract cheating is taking place around the world. Since 2014, nearly 16 percent of students have reported paying someone to complete an assignment for them, according to a new study.

Phil Newton, a professor at Swansea University, analyzed 71 samples from 65 different studies dating back to 1978. The surveys Newton selected asked participants whether they’d ever paid an online service -- often called an “essay mill” or “paper mill” -- or a third party. Combined, the samples included 54,514 participants.

The study, published in Frontiers in Education on Aug. 30, found that an average of 3.5 percent of students reported engaging in contract cheating across the sample, but almost five times as many students, 15.7 percent, reported engaging in contract cheating in the past five years. Currently, contract cheating is legal in the United Kingdom and banned in the U.S. and New Zealand.

Newton noted some caveats in his discussion. Cheating tends to be underreported generally, and over a third of the studies included did not make it clear to students that their responses were anonymous. Also, over 70 percent of the students used convenience sampling methods and almost 20 percent did not make clear their sampling methods, therefore the results may not be representative of the entire higher education student population.

The full study can be found here.

September 4, 2018

A federal judge declined to order an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program while emphasizing he believes the program created by former President Obama is unconstitutional, the Associated Press reported.

The DACA program, which was created in 2012, grants work permits and protection against deportation to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, including many college students. U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen effectively said that Texas and six other states that sued to end the program waited too long to seek a preliminary injunction.

“Here, the egg has been scrambled. To try to put it back in the shell with only a preliminary injunction record, and perhaps at great risk to many, does not make sense nor serve the best interests of this country,” Hanen wrote in a ruling Friday.

Hanen previously ruled against the Obama administration’s proposed extension of DACA-like protections to undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, known as DAPA, in a case that ended up in a 4-4 deadlock in the Supreme Court. DAPA never went into effect.

Three other federal district judges have issued orders blocking the Trump administration’s plans to end DACA and compelling the government to continue to process applications for DACA renewals.

September 4, 2018

Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, has donated more than 14,000 volumes to Spelman College in what is believed to be the largest donation of books to a historically black college. The volumes include an autographed first edition of James Baldwin’s second play, Blues for Mister Charlie, and an autographed first edition of Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters, originally published in 1965. Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.

September 4, 2018

Ripon College was falsely accused of banning posters depicting terrorist acts, the Associated Press reported. Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a national conservative student organization with a chapter at the Wisconsin college, planned to put up posters with images of terrorist acts, including the beheading of American journalist James Foley, the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and the attack on U.S. compounds in Libya.

When the posters -- provided by the Young America’s Foundation, YAF’s parent organization -- were on display last year, Ripon’s bias incident response team received complaints from students that the posters were “offensive and distasteful.”

After YAF and Young America's Foundation publicized the dispute at Ripon, media outlets incorrectly reported that the student group was punished for or banned from putting up the posters. Melissa Anderson, a spokeswoman for Ripon, said that wasn’t true.

“There was no ban,” Anderson told the AP about the posters. “The meeting did not result in any action."

Anderson said the college did speak with YAF about complaints that it has received in years prior and suggested that the group modify the posters or create some of their own. In an email provided to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Ed Wingenbach, dean of faculty, wrote to Christopher Ogle, dean of students, that "as things currently stand, YAF can (and I suspect will) put up the same posters again."

September 4, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Franziska Landes, graduate student in earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University, warns that danger can be just below kids' feet as they play in the dirt. And if you missed Monday's Academic Minute, on water purification, check it out here.

August 31, 2018

Two groups rallied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Thursday night. Members of one group -- carrying Confederate flags -- demanded the return of Silent Sam, a Confederate monument toppled by a protest last week. The other group demanded that the first group leave campus and defended the removal of the monument, long seen on campus as symbol of white supremacy. The second group shouted "Nazis go home" at the first.

UNC officials said that about 200 people were at the two protests, and that three people were arrested.

Images posted to social media show considerable hostility between the two groups.

August 31, 2018

Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of comparative literature and professor of critical theory of the University of California, Berkeley, and president-elect of the Modern Language Association, signed a controversial letter in support of a scholar accused of harassment that “runs counter to aspects of the MLA’s Statement of Professional Ethics" and to the MLA Executive Council’s legal duties of “care and loyalty” owed to the association. That’s what Anne Ruggles Gere, current MLA president and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English Language and Literature and the Gertrude Buck Collegiate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Michigan, wrote to MLA members this week. The letter follows calls for Butler to step down as the association’s president-elect for listing the MLA in her title when she signed a letter to New York University in support of a Avital Ronnell, a female professor of German literature suspended for harassing a former male graduate student (Ronnell, who is facing a related lawsuit, denies the allegations).

Butler has previously expressed regret for mentioning the MLA in the letter and for some of its arguments; the letter has been criticized as an example of victim-blaming. Paula Krebs, executive director of the MLA, has previously confirmed the the organization accepted her apology. Gere’s letter also says that MLA’s officers have accepted Butler’s apology. But it also acknowledges Butler’s specific policy violations, saying that the governing council “is a broadly representative, member-elected body, with no single member accorded any more decision-making power than any other, and no officer of the MLA speaks for the MLA unless expressly authorized to do so.” The MLA recognizes the “power disparity between faculty members and graduate students, and we affirm our strong commitment to graduate student rights and welfare and to academic professional rights and responsibilities. Those commitments will not change,” Gere said.

August 31, 2018

Brown University and PLOS ONE have distanced themselves from a controversial, peer-reviewed published study on “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” or gender identity issues that present not early and over a lifetime but quickly, in teenagers and young adults. The study, which has been criticized by transgender activists and allies as promoting the idea that being trans is a fad, and as relying on an unsound methodology, was based on anonymous survey responses from about 250 parents of (primarily female) teens and young adults who’d abruptly expressed gender dysphoria. 

A descriptive study, it found that many of those young adults had changed their names and pronouns and had support in changing their hair and dress upon coming out. But the study also raised questions about whether social factors, rather than biological ones, influenced the young adults’ trans identities. It found that many young adults had requested and been offered medical interventions at the time of coming out, with possible lasting implications for their fertility and health, and that most doctors who evaluated these young adults didn’t ask questions about mental health, trauma or other possible reasons for sudden gender dysphoria.

A Brown news release about the study posted last week quoted its author, Lisa Littman, an assistant professor of the practice of behavioral and social sciences at the university, as saying, “This kind of descriptive study is important because it defines a group and raises questions for more research. One of the main conclusions is that more research needs to be done.” But Brown removed the story from its website this week, replacing it with an open letter from Bess H. Marcus, dean of public health, saying, “In light of questions raised about research design and data collection related to the study on ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria,’ the university determined that removing the article from news distribution is the most responsible course of action.” 

While the “spirit of free inquiry and scholarly debate is central to academic excellence, Marcus said, “we believe firmly that it is also incumbent on public health researchers to listen to multiple perspectives and to recognize and articulate the limitations of their work. This process includes acknowledging and considering the perspectives of those who criticize our research methods and conclusions and working to improve future research to address these limitations and better serve public health.” There is an “added obligation for vigilance” in research design and analysis any time there are health implications within a study, she added. 

An additional university statement on the page cites PLOS ONE’s social media statement about the study.  The journal has said it's "aware of the reader concerns raised on the study’s content and methodology. We take all concerns raised about publications in the journal very seriously, and are following up on these per our policy" and other international publication ethics guidelines.As part of that “follow-up, we will seek further expert assessment on the study’s methodology and analyses. We will provide a further update once we have completed our assessment and discussions," PLOS ONE said.

Littman, the study’s author, declined comment on Brown’s or PLOS ONE’s actions. But she said she stood by her methodology. “My study is a descriptive study,” she said via email. “And like all descriptive studies there are limitations which are acknowledged. And although descriptive studies may be one of the less robust study designs they play an important role in the scientific literature primarily because they are a first description of a new condition or population and they make it possible to conduct additional, more rigorous research.”

She added, “When analyzing the methodology of my paper, it should be done in the context of other descriptive studies, not compared to studies employing other research designs. The methodology in my study is consistent with methodologies that have been used in other descriptive research and it has similar strengths and weaknesses, which I acknowledge in the paper.” 

The purpose of the study was to describe “a phenomenon that has been observed by clinicians and parents,” Littman said. “I stand by the conclusion of my study -- that more research needs to be done.”

A related petition asking Brown and PLOS ONE to “defend academic freedom and scientific inquiry” had nearly 3,000 signatures Thursday evening. 


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